Utilities & DOE Seek Better Management Of Solar Electricity From DERs

There happens to be a bunch of extra clean electricity now being fed to the grid, the renewable kind we like to applaud — generated from sources like wind and rooftop solar.

The Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative is pushing the growth along, aiming to cut the cost of solar electricity to $0.06/kWh by 2020, excluding incentives. That would make solar cost-competitive with conventional generation and grow it from today’s 1% of the power mix to “about 14% by 2030 and 27% by 2050,” according to department estimates.


This makes great news for clean energy enthusiasts. However, for utilities the management of these distributed energy resources (DERs) is a massive challenge.

In looking at renewable energy being used to feed the modern grid, UtilityDIVE phrases it succinctly: “As the US electricity grid gets cleaner, it’s also getting more difficult to manage.

“The U.S. had 24 GW of solar and 75 GW of wind at the end of 2015. Both are growing faster than ever. The EIA’s just-released Annual Energy Outlook 2016 forecasts 246 GW of new solar and 149 GW of new wind by 2040, and that’s from an agency that chronically underestimates renewables growth.”

“That’s an unprecedented level of variable renewables, and growing portion is expected to come from distributed energy resources (DERs) — assets that sit on the utility’s distribution system.”

Although the output of central-station renewables may seem like it is easily controllable, experts state utilities cannot control the output of the growing number of rooftop solar systems and other distributed resources on the system. Ultimately, this leads to voltage issues, among others.

DOE: Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy (ENERGISE) program

Through this program, the DOE is seeking software and hardware solutions “to enable dynamic, automated, and cost-effective management” of the distribution system. The DOE expects to make ten to fifteen awards totaling $25 million.

ENERGISE proposals to address four specific technical areas for grid modernization:

  • Solutions must demonstrate “performance and reliability” of the transmission and distribution grids both safely and cost-effectively, despite the unprecedented penetrations of solar and wind. This is a significant challenge for the distribution system because it is largely not designed for two-way power flows, DOE points out.
  • Innovations must include “dispatchability” for solar. It must be “available on-demand, when and where it is needed, in the desired quantities, and in a manner that is comparable to or better than conventional power plants.”
  • Capabilities of “power electronics” such as advanced smart inverters and other intelligent devices should be used in the proposals to maximize solar output and interface with the grid’s systems. It must be done cost-effectively without compromising “performance, safety, reliability, and controllability.” What DOE is seeking is management of net load as the transmission system and the distribution system are integrated, department materials explain.
  • Emphasis on scalable “communications, sensing, and data analytics” technologies and infrastructure to monitor and control the “millions of nodes” on a system with a high DER penetration.

One of the central goals of the SunShot Initiative is to devise methods to enable solar generation to be dispatched around the clock.

For those following this DER transition, please read the comprehensive article on UtilityDIVE.

Image via DOE

About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers is editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.